Are Your Characters Extensions of You?

How are you reflected in your characters? How distorted is the image?

As a novelist, I’m often asked if I base characters off people I know. I’ve seen some funny warnings on facebook about the dangers of getting on a writer’s bad side, but honestly, I don’t use real people as a basis to craft characters. However, looking back on the characters I’ve written and grown to love, I do notice pieces of myself in each of them.

It was odd to realize, because I didn’t do that intentionally. I guess it boils down to the sound, age-old advice to “Write what you know.” Well, what do you know better than yourself? You know your gifts and talents, and the lens through which you view the world. You know your dreams and aspirations, and hopefully, you know a bit about your flaws and shortcomings too. You know the person you WISH you could be: and all that comes out in your characters, or at least, it did it my case. I’ll go into just two examples: Kansten and Zalski.

Kansten Carder is a spunky woman and, so I’ve been told, a lot of people’s favorite character in “The Crimson League.” That really surprised me, because she can be a real grump. She’s difficult to handle, complains a lot, and though she’s not selfish per se, her first thoughts in evaluating a situation would be about herself. I should find it heartening that so many people love Kansten despite her flaws, because I know when I was younger I definitely shared her penchant to grumble and take little things too personally. That’s a piece of me that comes out in her.

Zalski Forzythe, on the other hand, is not so admirable a person. He’s the villain, the regicidal sorcerer who took over the kingdom and is running it into the ground. Well, it was important to me that Zalski had some humanizing, respectable, even admirable qualities. Those aspects to a negative character are important because they make him more believable at the same time they make him more terrifying, because let’s face it, it’s freaky to realize you kind of feel for the villain a bit. Well, one of the major ways I humanized Zalski was to stress how those who know him can always depend on him to keep his word. Despite his crimes, he feels he was in the right to act as he’s done and he has a deep-rooted sense of integrity. In my case, nothing bugs me more than when people say they’ll do something and then don’t follow through. Of course, I’m far from perfect on that account, but I strive to be true to my word as much as I can. That’s important to me and it comes through in, of all people, the bad guy.

So, that’s my two cents on this topic. If you’re a writer, I’d love to hear something about what parts of you appear in your characters!

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10 responses to “Are Your Characters Extensions of You?

  1. My daughter likes my books, but at the same time doesn’t like reading them because she sees me in them. I certainly didn’t plan it that way. I think we write subconsciously from what we know. If I look at my writing closely, I’m sure I’d find bits of my friends and family too.

  2. That adage of ‘write what you know’ has the flip side of the fact that it’s probably impossible to not what you know. No matter how far from one’s own experience a setting, character history or plot situation is, all of it written through the filter of the writer’s perspective and (when exaggering from even vaguely related experience or completely fabricating what can only be imagined) just like any interaction with anyone or anything, we always leave a little bit of ourselves in our wake.

  3. Actually it is funny about your blog. My mother was actually afraid to read my first novel I published because of that very fear. She did not want to see herself in any of my books. But unfortunately she saw me. Well the written me as did several family members. My husband refuses to read any of my books for fear of seeing himself.
    I don’t think you can get around putting a little something of yourself in your writing. It is who you are and usually your writing reflects that, (Hopefully not if you are writing about an axe murderer, LOL!)

  4. I’m so worried people will actually think two particular characters, a mother and son, are based on my sister and my nephew! the fact is, I finished the first draft before I knew a nephew was coming, but not everyone knows that. kind of awkward…. I know exactly what you mean!

  5. For me, the characters and I all live the same lives, just with different specifics, different experiences.

    Had I been born a girl… had we broken up a month earlier, stayed together a year longer… if she’d only lived longer… if I wouldn’t have gotten back on that bus… if I’d have just tried a little harder.

    They are all me, just living all the stuff I didn’t, for one reason or another.

  6. Pingback: Creative Writing: Write “What You Know.” What the Heck Is That? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  7. Pingback: Why I write novels: my characters inspire me to improve myself. Do yours? | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

  8. Pingback: On Creative Writing and the Bumbler: The Character Type I Avoid Writing | Creative Writing with the Crimson League

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